SAD 75 mulls size of future Topsham high school

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TOPSHAM — With support from its towns for building a new Mt. Ararat High School on the existing campus, School Administrative District 75 still has several other big decisions ahead, including the size of the school.

Residents of Topsham, Harpswell, Bowdoin and Bowdoinham voted 85-0 in a show-of-hands straw poll Jan. 21 in favor of the Eagles Way site. The vote did not identify a specific location on the 40-acre campus, but focused only on whether the new school should be placed somewhere on the property. A specific site could be determined within a few months.

The size discussion is “all about the space allocations which were developed by PDT Architects, the school’s designers, in cooperation with the school administration, and designed to tie teaching, learning and education goals to the size, types and numbers of spaces required to achieve those goals,” according to a SAD 75 press release.

“For example, a chemistry laboratory where hands-on learning is involved requires a different space allocation from a gymnasium or a classroom where students are in chairs or at desks,” the statement added.

The Maine Department of Education’s standards for space allocations support a space of about 185 square feet per student, while SAD 75 is looking for about 207 square feet.

“We started looking at existing space that we have, and then began reducing that to what we think will be a more reasonable number, since the (current) high school was built for a larger population,” Superintendent Brad Smith said in an interview Feb. 3.

The 207-square-foot determination is a starting point that is likely to be refined. “We’re a long way from having a final figure in terms of what the square foot per student would be,” he said.

While the existing 156,500-square-foot high school was built in 1973 for about 1,110 students, the population now is about 740, Smith explained. The school originally housed seventh- and eighth-graders, too, along with students from families stationed at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.

The state is projecting that the new school will have between 725 and 750 students, based on a projected student population of 725 in five years.

Smith would prefer the new school have room for growth.

“We don’t want to build a new building only to find out suddenly, we’re out of space,” he said, adding that building for 750-775 students “would give us a little bit of flexibility.”

The decline in population has made more space available, allowing teachers to have their own classrooms.

“PDT notes that the state favors the collegiate model, in which a classroom may be used by more than one teacher,” SAD 75 said in its press release. “While there is room for give and take, ultimately the state does not fund those aspects of facilities it considers unnecessary; however, a school district is always free to raise local funds to build those spaces.”

A recent draft facilities study by PDT recommended the high school be rebuilt at the current site, noting that the cost to renovate the existing school would exceed the cost to rebuild.

PDT has developed eight test fits of the site that show how a new building would look, alongside athletic fields, in various scenarios. With the straw vote decision in hand, the district Building Committee will narrow the options down to one, likely to be presented in public meetings.

The Jan. 21 straw vote was one of seven crucial decisions to be made in the course of the project. That course is determined by a 21-part, state-mandated process that includes two public straw votes, according to the district website.

The second straw vote will be on the building concept. Cost estimates are to start later this spring.

Four approvals by the state Board of Education are also required: on site, concept design, design and funding, and final funding. It is unknown at this point what percentage of the project the state will fund, according to Lyndon Keck of PDT.

The seventh and final approval will be a referendum, possibly this November or in June 2017, on whether to fund the project.

Construction could start late in 2017, with the new school ready to open by 2019 or 2020, according to PDT.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

 Alex Lear / The Forecaster

Alex Lear / The Forecaster After residents voted Jan. 21 to build a new Mt. Ararat High School on the existing Topsham campus, School Administrative District 75 faces other big decisions, including what size school to build.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.